How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.

Objectives

The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.

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What happened after I told an accountant he didn’t need a website

In this blog post I will explain the reasons I advised an accountant that he did not need a website in January 2018 and also how I would adapt this advice going forwards.

I initially wrote about this on Linkedin and sought feedback there. Within days that post secured over 24,000 views as well as dozens of likes and comments.

Many people agreed with me but even more people disagreed, although their logic didn’t always stack up. A couple of people however then added a new perspective and made me think again. Read on and let me know what you think.

Background

It was when I was chatting with an accountant in his late 60s recently that I advised him to ignore all the people telling him he needs a website.

He had been badgered by marketing experts, website designers, SEO consultants and accountancy gurus, all of whom have said he must get a website. I disagreed. And he was pleased to hear my reasoning, with which he agreed.

This accountant had taken up a recent invitation I sent him to book a call with me to get some unbiased input on a topic of his choice to help him in his practice. (Normally I call accountants on spec but I don’t do that in January!)

When he called we chatted for a couple of minutes and I then asked him to tell me what was on his mind. This led to him explaining how he had built his practice, what sort of work he enjoys doing and what sort of new clients he now wants. I offered some positive suggestions and advice as regards his main issue before the subject of his website came up.

He said that he has never had a website and that he only wants more clients like those he has and who are referred by clients or people he knows.

He isn’t looking to pick up lots of new clients. He barely has time to deal with all those he has and anticipates encouraging some of the smaller ones to move elsewhere. As regards new clients he doesn’t want to take on any start ups or to work for anyone who is searching randomly online for an accountant.

He is widowed and doesn’t intend to retire or to sell his practice but to keep going until he is no longer able to do so.

My advice

I suggested that some of the best people referred to him may not get in touch if they can’t find out ANYTHING about him online. This is one reason everyone has been suggesting he needs a website.

However my advice was that he doesn’t need a website. Instead he should simply update his Linkedin profile and add a profile photo to it.

In my view, if he does that well enough, it will be sufficient. The important point is to allow people who are referred to him to see that he has the skills, experience and approach that they seek and that he is the sort of person they would like to work with. In effect, for the recommendation they have received to be endorsed and confirmed.

Support

Among those people on Linkedin who agreed with the basic rationale for my advice, some neat refinements were suggested. Someone also pointed out that a Linkedin profile is akin to having a website with amazing built in SEO – it’s just hosted on a LinkedIn URL rather than a WordPress URL or a custom domain.

Missing the point

Dozens of people on Linkedin suggested that a website is crucial for him to be found on google, to appear in online search results, to evidence his credibility, to build up his practice, to show he is a 21st century accountant and to show that he has an established and substantial practice.

They had all missed the fact that he is in his late 60s and already has a good strong practice. He doesn’t want to be found by people searching for An accountant. Only by those who know of him already.

He only wants to take on a few new clients a year and can afford to be very choosy. He chooses to only consider those who are referred directly to him. To date the absence of a website doesn’t seem to have stopped any such referrals getting in touch with him.

Some people also seemed unaware that the search engines will find and display your Linkedin profile to anyone who searches for you even if they are not themselves on Linkedin. And you can decide how much of your profile is visible to the (non-Linkedin) ‘public’. Generally I suggest making everything public.

A different point of view

A couple of people commenting on the Linkedin post made very valid alternative observations.

Relying solely on LinkedIn and not having his own website means my accountant friend is not in control of a key element of his business.

If Linkedin block him or remove his profile by mistake (or for any other reason) he would no longer be findable online. This could happen, for example, if someone with the same or a similar name does something wrong. Or, less likely, if Linkedin change their entire business model.

He also has no way of knowing how much business he is losing by not having a website. Various reports suggest that a significant majority of all buying decisions are now made online. A lack of a website is seen as a key indicator in trust reduction.

He may get all the business he wants without a website, but with one he could get more and better quality business leading to higher profits.  Perhaps the best of the prospects referred to him would not be satisfied by a Linkedin profile rather than a website?

Refinements

I have supplemented my advice by encouraging the accountant to acquire a domain name related to his practice (eg: JonesAccountants.co.uk) and to initially direct this to his Linkedin profile.

At a later date he could create a simple one page website that contains basic information and makes clear both who he would like and who he would NOT be interested in as clients. That webpage could also link through to his Linkedin profile rather than replicate the information.

He could also add a company page to Linkedin with brief details of his practice and his firm’s logo – which will then also show on his personal profile.

By the way, if he ever has to look at selling the practice it would be good if his firm had its own website that would move with the clients to the purchaser.

For the moment he is in a similar place to loads of mature accountants I know who are frustrated that the likely ROI following sale isn’t high enough to justify a sale in the first place. As such their preferred approach is to continue working (reduced hours often) until they can no longer do so. The prospect of MTD is forcing some to reach that conclusion sooner than they hoped – as they don’t relish the idea of adapting to the quarterly reporting regime.

What’s your reaction to my advice here?

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Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

We all know the old adage that you never get a second chance to create a first impression (except when you do). This is one of the reasons that the first element in my 7 point framework is ‘A for Appearance and Attitude’. These are so important and go beyond your personal branding, how you look and whether you have a positive attitude. The often overlooked factor here is what impression do you give as regards your accountancy practice?

If clients or contacts become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. Or refuse to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

In this context do you have the appearance of someone who is successful or struggling? As regards your business advice especially, are you practicing what you preach?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do your networking contacts think of you as professional or pathetic? They may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

When you talk to clients about your business advisory services they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value to them. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from you or from someone else. Someone they consider to be successful. How do your business clients see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If clients are not agreeing to pay you for business advice and you’re not getting the referrals you would like, consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business. This has certainly been an issue for some of the accountants I have worked with over the last couple of years. For example, they have learned to build a much more positive first impression with new contacts and to ensure they do not highlight their own failings when talking with clients. What about you? Do people see you as successful or struggling?

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Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

If clients or business associates become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. And clients may choose not to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

Do you give the impression of success or of struggling? Are you practicing what you preach?  The people you meet in business and when networking associates may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do they think of you as professional or pathetic?

When you offer business advisory services to your clients they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from someone else. Someone successful. Or, at least someone who seems successful. How do your business clients and contacts see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If you’re not getting the referrals or business you would like, do consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business.

 

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“What tools do you recommend to help a sole practitioner stand out?”

This was another question I was asked during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answer on air.

Many accountants and bookkeepers reference their best source of new business as being referrals and recommendations. So let’s deal with this first.

Tools I would recommend here include:

  • Linkedin – you can use this to keep in touch with what clients are doing , to like, share and comment on their updates and news. It helps to have a decent profile here yourself. Check out my free Linkedin profile tips here>>>
  • Your website is key of course. It’s a tool to attract people to your practice rather than to your competitors. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how important it is to reveal who YOU are rather than hiding behind your firm’s name and brand. You don’t need to invest a fortune in your website. You can STAND OUT positively simply by addressing the basics and making it really easy for prospective clients to find key information before they get in touch.
  • A decent CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to ensure that you’re keeping in touch regularly and can recall key facts about each client.
  • A practice management system – monitoring time limits and deadlines, so you can avoid doing things at the last minute and provide a timely service to your clients. You only tend to get positive referrals when clients feel that you are on top of things.
  • A referrals strategy – this could be a simple spreadsheet or it could be built into your CRM system.

Other tools that could also help you to STAND OUT positively to people who don’t yet know you include:

  • Twitter and facebook – but only if you believe that your target audience are active on these platforms.  With twitter you’ll stand out more if you tweet in your own name with a decent profile headshot than if you tweet in your firm’s name.
  • Linkedin – once you have a decent profile you can use the advanced search facility to seek out either specific prospects or those who fit your target profile. Then you can ask to connect with them and start to build a business relationship with them – before meeting up if you both feel this could be worthwhile. Don’t move into sales mode until you know what they want and need.
  • Giveaways – I don’t mean you need to create a promotional brochure or  gimmicks. But if you have branded giveaways that people will find of use and value, you can use these to stand out from your competitors. As will focused tip sheets that highlight a specific sector or niche – as distinct from being the same old, same old generic tip sheets everyone else sends out.

If you’re aware of other tools you would recommend for sole practitioners, do please add them as comments on this post.

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3 lessons for accountants from….. personal trainers

I recently heard John Hardy the Founder of FASTER Health and Fitness introduce his business.  He mentioned he throught there were similarities with accountants. I have taken what he said and adapted it to provide some lessons for accountants from the business side of personal training and fitness.

1  Personality

John has noted that a bad trainer with a great personality will keep their clients for longer than those who focus on simply helping someone achieve a short-term goal (eg: weight loss).

Equally there are plenty of bad accountants who hang onto clients even though they’re not doing a very good job. The clients don’t really know what they could expect from a good accountant, so they stay with the bad accountant as long as they seem like a nice person.

Lesson: It’s easier to hang onto clients if they like you as a person. If you think you may be perceived as more of a traditional boring accountant, get out there. Attend  a local networking group on a regular basis and help people get to know and like you. It rarely happens overnight, but practice can help.

2  Context

Successful trainers do more than simply explain to clients how they can get fit. They also reference ‘how unfit you’re not getting’. They encourage and congratulate small successes.

Many accountants will tell clients what books and records they need to keep and leave them to it until the next set of accounts is required. Then the client finds out they haven’t been doing things as they should and that the accountant is having to do more work than planned just to get things straight.

Lesson: Check-in with clients to see how they’re doing – not just with their books and records, but generally. I have often pointed out the benefits of simply calling clients and asking them “How’s business?” and evidencing a genuine sense of interest and desire to help them to do better.

3  The technicalities

Apparently the training that personal trainers receive largely addresses just the medical and physical side of things. This leads to them focusing on all kinds of measurement, numbers and statistics. When they then go self employed they quickly learn that they need to also understand the business side of things. Being a good personal trainer is not enough to build a sustainable income as a personal trainer.

Can you see the analogy here?  Accountants’ training is focused on doing a good job as an accountant – from a technical perspective. There’s rarely any reference to the skills and activities you need to build a successful accountancy practice. As a result lots of well trained accountants struggle to build their own practice.

Lesson: You cannot rely on your technical expertise to build a successful accountancy practice. You need to apply good business planning skills too.

Sole practitioners who want to build a  more successful practice can tap into my guidance and support through the Successful Practice Programme (emails), The Sole Practitioner Breakthrough Programme (webinars), or 1-2-1 mentoring and support.

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Connect, know, like, trust, need – what do you do to make this work for you?

I frequently hear networking gurus stress a mantra that originated in the book ‘Endless Referrals, written by Bob Burg:
“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.”

I understand this is also the mantra shared at certain networking groups. The focus then is on encouraging you to make an effort to ensure you are easy to get to know, like and trust. But I think it is too simplistic.

There are two further elements I believe that demand your attention. One at the start and one that can float around at either end of the chain:

Connect – Know – Like – Trust – Need


Connect:
– People may connect with you face to face (eg: at a networking event) or online (eg: via social media, Linkedin or by engaging with you initially though commenting on your blog post or getting in touch after reading an article you have written or after hearing a talk you have presented).

Know
: People can only get to know you after you have connected with each other (face to face or online). Typically they will want to know more than just your name and profession. They are more likely to engage you or to refer you if they have more to go on than this. How easy do you make it for people to get to know you? Your background? Your interests on a professional and personal level? Which organisations do you belong to? What makes you you – as distinct from just another accountant?

Like
: People rarely engage or refer work to people they don’t like. There are exceptions to this principle. We tend to refer people to surgeons if we rate them even if they have no bedside manner. And some legal work is best done on our behalf by really tough negotiators. But in the main, likability is key. People like people who are helpful, kind, and not pushy.

Trust:
 People tend to choose accountants they can trust in two ways. to know your stuff (do you have sufficient expertise?) and to be a decent person?

Need:
No one ever engages an accountant unless they need one. Equally they rarely go around promoting their accountant until they hear that someone they know needs one. If no one you connect with needs an accountant or knows anyone who needs one, you won’t get much work!

So

Where do advertising and other forms of marketing fit into this analysis? At the beginning of course.  It is simply a way to encourage people who need an accountant to connect with you. Once they have done this you need to help them get to know you, then to like and trust you. This is why I suggest that ‘Need’ can float around either end of the chain. If someone realises they need an accountant but doesn’t know anyone suitable they may respond to your advert or your other marketing promotions and connect with you.
When you recognise that there are 5 links in this chain you may be able to see why your networking, marketing and online activities are not generating the business or referrals you seek. Are you meeting, engaging or connecting with enough people who need your services? Are you going to the right places? Are you active online in the right places? Are you encouraging the right referrals? Are you then helping your new connections to get to know, like and trust you – both generally and specifically to do the work and give the advice they need?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, feel free to connect with me 😉  I’d love to do something to help you. Let’s have a chat and see what I can do >>>>
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The 5 key social media risks to your practice

This post adopts a different approach to usual. In it I share 5 key social media risks and offer pragmatic advice to help you manage the inherent risks.

1 – Posts on behalf of the firm 

The biggest risk here is of boring your intended audience! Social media encourages interaction. This happens less frequently when the posts are not attributable to a specific person.

If you or a social media manager post in the name of the firm, you just want to ensure they don’t give, share or repeat dubious advice. You should give them clear guidance by reference to your firm’s strategy – and this will probably vary across different platforms. I’ve addressed this on previous blog posts.

I would also discourage you from saying “I” in any messages posted in the firm’s name. Will anyone know who “I” is?

2 – What you post yourself

Keep it professional and only give advice in direct personal messages to clients. You probably don’t owe a duty of care to strangers who might see and act on your advice posted on social media. But you want to avoid having to defend any allegations they might make that your advice was wrong.

You also want to avoid getting into public arguments over the advice or views you have shared on social media. Beware of the potential impact on your reputation. Keep it positive if you can.

Over the years I have become used to receiving feedback in respect of advice I share online. I tend to be very careful to avoid giving definitive advice as so much depends on context. This also means that I can generally diffuse any challenges I receive by accepting that another view may be valid in certain circumstances. What I never do is get into public arguments. If someone seems determined to pursue an argument I will allow them to have the last word. I prefer to allow my professional approach to speak for my reputation than my desire to have the last word and, in so doing, to encourage trolls.

You will also want to avoid breaching client confidences, sharing details of client meetings (that identify the client) of the advice you have given them. Remember that some social media platforms tag your messages with your location. So avoid posting anything from a client’s premises (or anywhere nearby) if you don’t want them to be identified.

3 – What staff and colleagues post

The same principles apply here as for your own posts of course. You will want to encourage professional behaviour, for everyone to accept responsibility and to be accountable for what they post online.

I also encourage accountants to consider whether they want everyone in the firm to be consistent in their descriptions and references to the firm, services and the nature of their roles on their social media profiles (especially Linkedin).

4 – What third parties post

More and more people use social media to complain about poor service. Would you want to know if someone is trashing your firm’s reputation?

Fortunately it is less likely to happen if you aren’t a big well known brand. But anyone (including ex-members of staff) could post a message of dissatisfaction about you or your firm. There’s rarely anything you can do to stop this. But you can reduce the impact by considering whether or not to reply in real time. This means reviewing any such references.

You can set up automated alerts to notify you when your firm’s name is referenced online (e.g.: google alerts). You can also set up a standard search on twitter to check every day or so.

If anyone has posted something negative you can then decide if it’s best ignored or if a comment/reply would be appropriate.

5 – Absence of social media policies

The more people there are in your firm the more likely you will want to establish social media policies for staff and partners.

Absence of policies and guidelines make it more difficult to take action if someone does something stupid. The normal employment rules apply as regards the actions you can and cannot take by reference to staff use of social media.

There is little point in just imposing social media policies without discussion. You need everyone to accept that the policies make sense and are practical. If they are onerous, impractical or unreasonable your policies could cause more problems than they solve.

Social media policies should address acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on social media generally. And then specifically: recruitment, bullying, defamation, data protection and privacy.

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What’s your angle?

Too many accountants struggle to distinguish themselves from their competition. This is a shame as it is what makes each of us different that makes us memorable and the reason why clients engage us.

Challenge this if you must. Tell me that no one cares about anything other than price.

If that’s what you believe then I’m sorry for you. It’s a fallacy promoted by those who choose to sell stuff at low prices. It’s not true for Apple, for the makers of quality cars, handbags or designer clothes. Nor is it true for EVERYONE seeking professional advice, tax advice or day to day compliance services.

Of course price is all that matters to SOME people. Personally though I’m happy for those people to choose someone other than me to provide the service they seek. Typically those who only want to pay a low fee do not become valued clients; they are often more trouble to deal with and getting paid is rarely easy either.

So, let’s get back to the point. Do you really feel that you are no different from hundreds of other accountants? If that’s what YOU feel then it’s no wonder that prospective clients think the same and may choose to go elsewhere.

When you talk about what you do for clients, do you sound the same as everyone else? If so, you are missing a trick. The same goes for your website, online profiles and any physical marketing materials you use.

What do you add beyond the basics? It’s the differences that matter and that make it worth while someone choosing to engage you rather than the accountant down the road. What’s your angle? Often it’s your point of view that makes you unique and can help you to STAND OUT from your competitors. If you haven’t formulated any strong opinions on work related topics you may struggle to convince prospective clients why they will get a better service from you than from others. Just be careful to ensure that your views are based on informed facts rather than a naive acceptance of biased comment in the media.

Think back to the most common questions you are asked by prospective clients. Do you have a unique take that might resonate with them and help them to recognise that you’re the sort of professional they want to engage?

What’s your angle?

 

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What do clients pay you for?

Are you one of those accountants in practice, who still charges fees by reference to the time you spend working on a client’s affairs?

Even if you have moved to fixed pricing, menu pricing or value pricing you may still complete timesheets to show how much of your day has been devoted to each different client.

Thinking back to when I was in practice it was many years before I realised that a timesheet may have uses as a management tool but that it did not ‘prove’ how much time had been spent doing anything. It was a guide, nothing more.

After I left practice in 2006 I continued running training courses (very different to the talks I give now) and I asked accountants what they would bill in a variety of situations. The varied answers proved that the timesheet was simply a guide and that the ‘time costs’ that it reveals are rarely the same as the fees billed (or that could be billed).

A quick search online reveals that many accountants websites still assert that “Accountants sell time”. What nonsense. This is a sad misconception. It’s based on a misunderstanding and it’s misleading. Some accountants may try to determine SOME OF their fees by reference to time. They may try to charge fees by reference to their time records but TIME is not generally what accountants sell. If it were then the corollary would be that TIME is what people who want an accountant set out to buy. And they don’t.

In my view accountants sell (or should focus on selling) Trust, Confidence and Peace of Mind. These are 3 of the key qualities, if not THE 3 key qualities, that clients seek when they want to appoint an accountant. If prospective clients do not quickly trust you, have confidence that you will do the necessary, and gain peace of mind that they can rely on you, you will not keep them as clients; indeed they may not appoint you in the first place.

Yes they may have more specific needs – such as to prepare accounts, complete tax returns or resolve issues with HMRC. They don’t really care how long it takes you to provide your services. They just want things done. What do you think clients pay you for?

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Are your clients indifferent or do you get all the referrals you want?

Some professional advisers, such as accountants, claim that they secure much of their new work through word of mouth referrals. This suggests that clients are making positive comments about them. They may do that if they’re particularly happy but in the same way any unhappy clients will be quick to share their negative views even if they don’t express their disappointment to your face.

I’ve heard a large number of people talking about their accountants in recent years and it’s fair to categorise those views as good, bad, or most often – indifferent. Well at least it’s not ugly!

Let’s explore these different views and the wider lessons we can learn.

Good

Expressing a positive feeling that the accountant is doing a good job should mean that everything is good enough (or great!). Clients imply that their accountant does what they want, when they want it and for a fee that they consider to be good value for money. A good feeling is even more likely if the client indicates that they get pro-active advice and are very happy to recommend their accountant to friends and family.

Bad

Negative perceptions are sadly all to common. These clients feel that they’re putting up with bad service, high fees and/or get little of value. They certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone they know to use the accountant.

Indifferent

This is how I describe those clients who think their adviser is ‘okay’ or ‘good enough’. This might be because the accountant doesn’t wow the clients with great service nor do they feel that the accountant is charging excessive fees.

Sadly it seems to me that a high proportion of people think their accountant is just ‘okay’. The fact that they haven’t complained doesn’t mean we can assume that they think their accountant is ‘good’. It also means that the client is more at risk of moving to a new pro-active client than their current accountant might assume.

‘My accountant is great’

I saw this comment on a business forum a while back. I asked the person concerned what made them say that? Here’s the reply:

“He keeps things very straightforward in his explanations not that I have any particularly complex matters to deal with but he acts quickly, keeps costs to a reasonable amount (not cheap but sufficient value), makes himself available as and when needed and I get comfort from the fact that he has a successful practice, nice small modern offices and polite and helpful staff. When I have required explanations re: overseas investments, capital gains tax, what I can put against tax to minimise it legally, he delivers his knowledge in an easy to assimilate manner”.

I think that’s about it in a nutshell. Of course different clients want different things from their accountants. And different elements of your service and style will appeal to different clients.

Conclusion

If your clients are getting the service and attention  they want from you at a price they’re happy to pay then they MIGHT be expressing a positive view about you to other people. They’ll only do so when asked though. Are you consciously doing anything to ensure that your clients see you as good, rather than bad, or do you risk them being indifferent?

It’s only if your clients think you’re really good that they’ll be saying positive things about you. And if you rely on word of mouth referrals for new clients, you may find that we are moving into an age when you need to adopt a more active approach to encouraging these.

What do you do to actively encourage positive word of mouth referrals?

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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the game of chasing followers, likes, connections and social media klout. It may be fun to keep track of these metrics and to keep increasing them. But, in real life, they are not important by themselves.

There is little point in simply pursuing these metrics. You need to have key business focused targets instead. It may be that you want to raise your profile and to become a go-to person for media comment in your area of expertise.  Most accountants and lawyers for example, are experimenting with social media to generate additional fees.

And that is the key metric that you need to measure. How much of the additional fees you generate can be attributed to your online social media activity? There will rarely be a quick or short payback in this regard.

It is also important to note the 3 factors that will influence the speed with which you can gain a payback. These factors are all relevant whether your social media activity is focused around facebook, online forums, blogging, twitter or Linkedin.

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

How effective is your use of the social media platform? How consistent and congruent are your messages, your profile and your online activity?

2 – Your website

Most accountants using social media will include links back to their website.  Your social media activity may be exemplary but your website could be a turn off. Does it reinforce the messages you have been promoting on social media? Does it engage visitors? How easy is it for them to get in touch with YOU (as distinct from a faceless ‘admin’ person)? Does your website even reference your name and profile?

3 – Offline follow up

Just like with any other form of networking, personal contact is crucial. If you are not leveraging your use of social media to meet with people face to face or at least to speak with them on the phone, you will wait longer to secure a valuable ROI.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any other factors that will determine your success of your social media activity?

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How to use the 3Rs when you’re seeking more work

In an educational context we refer to the three Rs as being those crucial elements that all children need to master. That is, Reading wRiting and aRithmetic. This is somewhat ironic given that only one of the three topics actually starts with an R. (The phrase is used as each of the three words, when spoken, has a strong R sound at the start).

Professional advisers keen to win more work would do well to focus on a different set of 3Rs.

You want to be Remembered, you want to be Referred and you want to be Recommended. Let’s consider each in turn, in a slightly different order (for reasons which will become apparent):

You want to be Remembered

How might you become more memorable – for good reasons?

One way to do this is counter-intuitive. Instead of talking a lot about yourself and your practice, develop a natural curiosity and interest in other people.

It can be really helpful to learn how to ask good questions and then to listen carefully to the replies. The more genuinely interested you are in someone else the more they will remember you as an interesting person. Yes, this means you talk less but your questions may themselves, if well worded, evidence your experience and credibility.

You want to be Recommended

This can only happen once your clients have experienced your advice and can express an honest opinion about your work.

Think about any service provider who has done work for you. If you are really pleased with their service you will gladly recommend them when someone asks you if you know a good decorator, plumber, mechanic, dress-maker or whatever.

You want to be Referred

Again I am grateful to Andy Lopata who helped me to understand the distinction between referrals and recommendations and also how these differ from tips and leads.

  • A tip – This is quite simply a piece of information. It rarely includes contact details and may even be based on a misunderstanding. Nice though it is to receive tips, they leave us with plenty of leg-work to do ourselves to determine if they are each worth pursuing.
  • A lead – This is more than a tip, in that you may receive contact information, but a lead is little more than the first stage in the sales process.

When someone gives you a name and a number and says ‘You need to speak to this person’ they are simply giving you a lead. If they invite you to use their name when approaching the prospect that is simply a ‘warm’ lead.

The other side of a lead is when an introducer recommends that someone looking for an accountant gets in touch with you; but the introducer is unable to recommend your services as they have not experienced them.

Referrals are much more valuable than tips and leads. Andy explains that there are three steps to referral heaven. In the context of this blog post these three steps would be:

  1. The person referring you identifies someone who needs a professional like you to help them.
  2. They talk to the prospect and determine that they are interested in speaking with you.
  3. The prospect is then expecting your call which will follow after the introducer passes on the referral to you.

Can you see how much more valuable this would be than a tip or a lead?

The importance of these 3Rs is a key reason why I speak on the subject of how you can STAND OUT from the pack. It’s so that you can win more work, but also so that you  and your colleagues are better Remembered, Referred and Recommended.

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How to build your personal brand

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? What would you like them to say?

Few accountants seem to think this through. If you are clear about what you want people to say though you are likely to find success a lot faster than anyone who is ‘just another’ accountant.

There are two elements to consider here. What do you want people to say about:

  • what you do (as an accountant)? and, separately
  • you as a person?

I addressed the first question in a recent blog post. That second question though is especially tough. You need to be somewhat self aware and self analytical to address this successfully.

For example, do you want to be remembered as a thoughtful person who listens to others? Or as someone who is self-absorbed and who talks at people without really taking any notice of what they say?

Do you know how you come across? Or what people currently say about you?

We each create an impression by what we say, how we say it and how we react to other people. This is true of face to face encounters but also of our online engagements on social media and Linkedin. It can be instructive to reflect on the way that other people will remember us.

These memories that other people hold become our personal brand. And if it’s not what we want it to be then it’s upto us to change things.

Going back to the first of the two questions, you also want to provide some clarity about your role as an accountant. People need to know your areas of expertise and of specialism. I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again, you are different to all the other accountants out there. You are You. You have your past experiences and interests to draw on. If you make no effort to distinguish yourself, you will struggle longer than those accountants who are memorable and distinct.

We have all heard the old phrase: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. The implication being that to be successful, you need to accept that your knowledge and skills are less useful and less important than your network of personal contacts.

I think that old phrase is no longer correct. The truth is that these days, It’s BOTH what you know and who you know. And who knows you. And, this is crucial, What they say about you*.  YOU can determine this by how you behave and by what you say both in real life and online. Take control and build your personal brand to be more successful than those who leave it to chance.

* My friend, Andy Lopata, stresses this point in many of his presentations.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to stand out and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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25 reasons people change their accountants

The following list is a salutary lesson in what not to do if you want to keep your clients.

I have collated these points from various ideas found around the web. Such lists are normally aimed at encouraging clients of one accountant to move to another one.  I thought it would be instructive to consider the same points from the perspective of an accountant.

Some of what follows will be facts. Some will be feelings and some will be false. But, even in the latter case, as I have often said: Perception is Reality. If any of your clients think of you as boring or uninterested you may well be at risk of them being poached by a more stand out and successful accountant.

You are at risk of clients being tempted away if:

  1. Their phone calls are not returned promptly
  2. Promises, expectations and agreed deadlines not met.
  3. Their work is not completed on a timely basis affording clients practically no time to make changes or ask questions.
  4. You are providing poor value for money.
  5. You are not evidently trying to help them to pay less tax.
  6. You are not providing what they perceive to be a proactive service.
  7. You make mistakes or have to accept there is a better solution when clients question your advice.
  8. They have unexpected tax liabilities
  9. They get charged penalties and interest charges about which you had not forewarned them
  10. You charge unexpected or additional fees without warning clients of these in advance.
  11. You seem to lack sufficient relevant technical knowledge.
  12. Your resources are limited such that clients don’t feel they are getting prompt attention.
  13. You are only really in contact with them once a year.
  14. Their business has out-grown you and the resources you are able to muster.
  15. They perceive that you are more interested in last year’s accounts than planning for the future.
  16. You rarely talk about ways to help them increase their profits.
  17. You have not discussed (in recent years) their exit plans – for selling the business or retirement.
  18. You never call them to enquire “How’s business?”
  19. You never ask them tough business questions.
  20. They perceive that you use too much jargon such they they find it difficult to understand you.
  21. They feel that they never know what you will charge them
  22. You don’t explain your ideas, preferring instead to act “the expert”, and expecting them to find enjoyment and value in listening to you pontificate.
  23. They perceive you to routinely say “no” rather than listening to what they want to do.
  24. They perceive that you don’t attempt to formulate ideas to help them reach their true goals.
  25. They perceive that you only talk numbers and taxes, nothing else. Clients feel absolutely no chemistry or rapport with you.

I doubt that all clients would have the same perceptions.  But if you think about that subset of your client base who may be unhappy you can at least start to turn things around with them. The actions to take are implicit in the above list.

The bottom line is to help ensure that clients recognise that you are interested in them, that you care about them and that you are helping them. Any client that perceives you to do be doing those 3 things will see you as a standout accountant. And that will help you to become more successful too.

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Lifetime achievement award for Robert Maas

I was thrilled to be seated with Robert when he was announced as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Taxation Awards ceremony last night. I am proud to count him as a friend and as one of my tax mentors.

In the light of last night’s award I think it appropriate to share my own thanks and admiration for Robert. Here is a man who really stands out in my eyes.

Whilst I no longer give tax advice I did initially start my career in tax shortly after qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1982. Robert was already well known and respected in the tax world even then. I believe he started in tax in 1965, the year that Corporation Tax and CGT were first introduced. It is also almost 50 years ago!

Some years later I think I met Robert at a conference. I assume I must have already started writing on tax matters as Robert recognised my name. He encouraged me to join the London Society of Chartered Accountants Tax Committee. Robert was the Chairman at the time. I was so proud and thrilled to be invited. In time I became Vice-Chairman of the Committee. Robert also then encouraged me to join the ICAEW Tax Faculty Committee, which in turn then led to me being invited to stand for election as Vice Chairman and then Deputy Chairman of the Faculty.

I benefitted from working with Robert on various Institute committees over the years including the ICAEW Tax Technical Committee, the Personal Tax and Finance Committee and the main Faculty Committee. I think I also provided a little support when he initiated the Faculty’s Younger members’ Tax Club and also the Faculty’s Tax Investigations Committee. Over the years Robert has kindly invited me to speak to various groups of which he is the prime mover. It is also due to this chain of events that he started which led to me recently being appointed Chairman of the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Committee.

In 2001 when I left BDO I seriously considered moving out of the tax world. I remember Robert, on hearing me suggest this after the CTA Address that year, taking me for a drink and persuading me to stick with it. He complimented my communication skills and said my departure would be a loss for the Tax World. I always thought he was exaggerating but I took his advice and this also allowed me to then go on to be Chairman of the Tax Faculty from 2003-2005. In the end I stayed active as a tax adviser until 2006 when I finally gave in and concluded that my brain just isn’t big enough.

During one of my talks (at least) I quote Robert. He taught me long ago that there is no shame in admitting you don’t know the answer to a tax question or problem. Despite his general reluctance to accept how highly regarded he is, he did tell me once that he couldn’t understand how any general practitioners could cope without ever engaging tax specialists. “If I have to stop and check with someone else every now and then, how much more likely is it that someone less experienced should need to do the same and more often?”

Robert is a giant in the tax world. But he is also a very unassuming man. Nevertheless I am aware that there are many other tax practitioners who have been influenced by Robert during their careers. Whether by attending one of his lectures, reading one of his books or articles or through his personal encouragement to join a committee. Many more people have been influenced by Robert than probably even he knows.

I recall attending Robert’s 65th birthday party some years ago – I have lost track of how many. I was so touched and proud to be invited. More recently Robert has taken up blogging. He loves tax and although he is still in practice at Blackstone Franks, he continues to write regular articles for the professional press. But if no one wants to publish what he has written he posts it on his blog – ‘Two cheers for the Chancellor’. This now has over 130 insightful and educational pieces on it and is well worth reading. Robert has also taken to LinkedIn but is reluctant to connect with anyone there he doesn’t know.

I don’t imagine Robert will ever retire. For now though his unswerving commitment to the tax profession has been recognised and rightly so. The announcement last night was met with a standing ovation. Robert is well-loved and much respected – with good reason.

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What makes you or your firm stand out?

I’m often struck by the difficulty many accountants have when trying to identify what’s special about them or their firm. When asked, almost everyone uses the same adjectives, the same aspirational service levels and the same so-called distinguishing features. What’s really special? What really makes you stand out and memorable?

Not a lot, it would seem.

Do you use variations on any of the following to describe how your firm stands out?

  • We provide a partner-led service
  • We don’t just prepare your accounts and tax returns
  • We aim to be your long-term business partners
  • We avoid surprise fees
  • We specialise in helping SME businesses
  • We keep in touch with you throughout the year

Good, good. But what’s really memorable, special and different  about your firm? Why should a prospective client who is comparing you or your firm with another one choose you? In what ways do you or your firm stand out as different to the other options? By ‘different’, I mean in what ways will a client benefit more from working with you than with any of the other accountants out there?

If you haven’t thought about this you should do – assuming you want to win more clients.  And you can only do this if you know what the competition are claiming make them memorable, special and different. Do you?

This is also a critical issue when networking. How easy do you make it for the people you meet to act as your advocate? Even if they like you and want to help you, what do you expect them to say? “I know this ‘great’ accountant” or “I know this ‘great’ employment lawyer” or whatever. What can they say to evidence what makes you ‘great’? What makes you stand out? What would you want them to say about you? How do they know this?

Few accountants or other professionals have thought about HOW they market themselves, WHAT messages they project and WHY anyone else should recommend them. Too many focus simply on an ‘elevator’ type statement that simply sets out what they do and who they do it for. It’s a start, but’s not enough.

Do share your thoughts below as comments or get in touch direct to let me know what makes you standout from the crowd.

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Are accountants the new bogeymen?

Were you as angry as I was at the headlines and media focus on a clearly misguided element of the latest report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)?

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said accountants seconded to government represented a “ridiculous conflict of interest” that should be ended. She had clearly made up her mind based on no real evidence and was determined to use her position to grab a few more headlines and to make sure accountants become the new bogeymen (sorry – I cannot find a gender neutral word).

Hodge referenced just ONE (non) example to justify her sweeping criticisms. Despite the paucity of her arguments the media is gleefully repeating Hodge’s criticism of all the Big 4 firms and, implicitly, accountants in general. Re Hodge’s single ‘proof’, what really happened I suspect is this:

The last LABOUR Gov’t wanted to introduce a tax relief to reduce taxes for those who qualify for the patent box regime. To ensure the relief worked as intended they sought outside help (from KPMG). Could have been any of the Big 4.

Once the law was introduced, KPMG (and all the others) then helped promote the concept so that the regime (introduced by LABOUR) would be a success. There were no loopholes to exploit. The advice given to clients was to ensure they could benefit from the new regime – as the Government intended.

I listened to Mrs Hodge being interviewed on the Today programme on Friday and was frustrated by her outrageous slurs on our profession. The Treasury also disagreed with the criticisms saying the PAC’s analysis and conclusions:

“bear almost no resemblance to the reality of what government is doing or what is happening. In particular, as a matter of principle, the suggestion that government shouldn’t work with business, and indeed anyone affected by its policies, is totally absurd.”

Treasury Minister, David Gauke, was also critical of the report, saying:

“The idea that we shouldn’t make use of private sector expertise in developing a tax system that would bring investment and development to the UK is absurd. They’re not going out to advise clients on how to dodge the legislation, they’re going out to advise clients on how to abide by the legislation.”

As the FT noted, also critical of the ill-informed PAC report were ICAEW, CIOT and the trade union that represents senior staff at HMRC (The Association of Revenue and Customs). But of course most of the media have chosen to ignore such criticisms. They seem to like having someone new to criticise even if the facts do not support this. The media have got fed up of criticising MPs and the bankers.  I fear that accountants are to be identified as the new bogeymen. What do you think and what can we do about it?

ps: The other thing that worries me is that I know how biased and inaccurate Hodge and the PAC are on this matter. It makes me very cynical as to the reliability of other reports produced by the PAC and, indeed any Parliamentary committee. If this one can be so far off the mark, it’s likely that others are too. How much reliance should be placed on any of them?

Some of the recent headlines:

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Why consistency is important on social media

Most accountants who become active on social media do so in the hope of attracting more clients.

If this is your intention or you want to evidence your credibility, I suggest that you adopt a consistent business focus across your websites, blogs, online networking and contributions to business forums. It also helps to show that you’re a real person with more to your life than accountancy and tax – although you should try to avoid a situation where there are conflicting views of who you are and what you do – as this causes confusion.  I know. I confuse people!

Careless status updates and tweets can damage your reputation if they suggest a very different level of activity and focus as distinct from your website.

  • One accountant claiming to have quickly established a busy practice routinely posts status updates that suggest he has very little work and perhaps is not the start-up success he claims to be.
  • Another accountant tries to use Twitter to highlight his expertise as a tax adviser. This might have been a good idea, except that his website highlights his expertise is only in the area of corporate finance. In practice he is simply using an automated tool (badly) to promote his services. He doesn’t engage online and is only tweeting ‘adverts’. This is generally regarded as a pointless tactic – whether on twitter, Linkedin, on business forums or on blogs.

These are just two examples from many I have noted online. Please share any others that you have seen or that you would like to warn readers about.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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6 key factors that can determine your success

I recently watched an old video clip of the professional services firm guru, David Maister, in which he highlights the six most scarce resources in most professional service firms:

  • Energy
  • Excitement
  • Enthusiasm
  • Determination
  • Passion
  • Ambition

David also points out that his research has proved that the top achieving firms are those that energise, excite and enthuse their people to perform at a higher level than their competitors.  I can echo this based on my own experience and observations over the years.

Those who’ve worked with me will also know that the listed resources are all qualities that I possess in abundance. I have no doubt that they helped me reach the top of my career more so than any technical skills or technical knowledge that I developed over the years.

Would your colleagues and clients use all or indeed any of these words to describe you or your firm? If there’s a mismatch as between how others see you and how you want to be seen you will need to do something to close the perception gap. If you do nothing then nothing will change.

What other factors do you think can determine your success?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Protecting the title ‘accountant’ would be counter-productive

Although qualified accountants are aware that anyone can call themselves an ‘accountant’ I find that very few ‘real’ people appreciate this fact. They tend to assume accountants are like dentists, doctors and solicitors. If only that were the case!

It is precisely because of this confusion that various groups of accountants campaign to secure protection of the description ‘accountant’.  The arguments in favour of this are made strongly, vociferously and repeatedly.  And, I suggest, short-sightedly. The proponents seem unaware of the wider consequences that a successful campaign would bring.

My alternative view is borne of many discussions with members of the public in connection with the Tax Advice Network. I quickly realised that that most non-accountants assume that all accountants are tax advisers as the words are thought to be synonymous.

Leaving aside company directors, why does anyone typically appoint an accountant? Is their main concern to have a decent set of accounts? Or are most people more interested in obtaining help and advice as regards their tax returns and tax planning? Private investors, the retired and many other clients do not even have accounts in the conventional sense. Yet still the majority of such taxpayers turn to accountants for help. With apologies to the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), the concept of a ‘Chartered Tax Adviser’(CTA) as distinct from an ‘Accountant’ has yet to enter the public consciousness.

I cannot imagine that members of the CIOT would want or ever agree to describe themselves as ‘accountants’.  Equally there would be an uproar if CTAs were precluded from completing tax returns and advising on tax matters.  There’s also the Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) which has just celebrated its 21st birthday. They would be equally disenfranchised. No one is arguing that they should call themselves accountants. But equally no one is arguing to restrict use of the term ‘tax adviser’.

So what would happen if only qualified members of approved accountancy bodies could call themselves ‘accountants’?

Quite simply, unqualified accountants would promote their services (more accurately) as ‘Tax Advisers’. The public would then quickly become much more familiar with the distinction between an Accountant and a Tax Adviser. And given the choice between going to a specialist in preparing accounts or one specialised in advising on tax, which will they choose to appoint?

I am convinced therefore that if the campaign to ‘protect’ use of the title ‘Accountant’ were ever to be successful, it would be largely counter-productive. Unless, at the same time, the term ‘Tax Adviser’ was restricted such that it could only be adopted by those who are members of an approved accountancy, tax or legal body. And that’s even less likely to happen than restricting who can claim to be an Accountant.

Simply stopping unqualified accountants preparing accounts etc would not prevent them working on tax returns and giving tax advice.  Limiting use of the term of ‘Accountant’ would lead to an inevitable increase in understanding as to the differences between accountants and tax advisers  And if that happens I fear that qualified accountants would lose more than they gain.

What do you think?

This is an updated version of a piece I posted on this blog in July 2008.

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Confidence – inside you or through others’ views of you

In 2001 after I joined WJB Chiltern, an independent tax consultancy that later inspired me to establish the Tax Advice Network, I became head of the Tax Support for Professionals (TSP) team.

The main backbone of the TSP service was a telephone helpline service. Each day a different member of the team was allocated to answer the phones. Calls came in from accountants wanting advice on all aspects of tax. I recall sharing my admiration of the guys in my team who had the confidence to pick up the Taxline phone. On one occasion I said to John (an older member of the team) that I didn’t think I had a deep enough knowledge across the tax spectrum to answer the Taxline myself. I’ve long remembered his reply as he was evidently quite shocked:

You’re being harsh on yourself Mark. You invariably suggest additional points when we debrief on the calls of the day. And I’ve heard you on the phone often enough to know that you do have a broader knowledge of tax than you give yourself credit for. You wouldn’t have got to where you are otherwise.

John’s comments were not intended to have a long lasting and powerful impact. They were simply his instinctive response to my apparent reluctance to man the Taxline. That, in turn, was partly a reflection of a lack of inner confidence – a common enough feeling for many of us. I’m well over that now! Indeed John’s words have stayed with me and helped force a change in the way that I subsequently described my tax knowledge.

In some respects that conversation was also a catalyst for the creation of the Tax Advice Network. I used to have a good broad knowledge of the tax system but  I haven’t given anyone tax advice for years now. Instead I refer anyone who asks me for tax advice to members of my Tax Advice Network.

One of the most powerful factors that affects whether an accountant will refer tax queries to us is the level of confidence that they have. Are they

  • Rightly confident that they know enough and that there is little chance of being wrong?
  • Over confident and reluctant to seek a second opinion?
  • Lacking in confidence and worried that clients will think less of them if they admit what they don’t know? (They’ll certainly be unhappy if the accountant gets it wrong, that’s for sure. Most clients recognise that their accountant is like their GP and that sometimes there is a need to go to a specialist);

What about you?

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Some trusted advisers shouldn’t be trusted

In a recent posting I highlighted some of the scenarios that suggest that an adviser has not achieved the level of trust that we tend to seek from our clients. I have also written about what it means to be a ‘Trusted adviser’ and that just because an adviser is trusted by clients doesn’t automatically mean that the trust is justified.

The adviser may not have sufficient knowledge to give reliable advice on the matter at hand. If he or she goes ahead however the client may still feel able to rely on it as they are unaware that the accountant is either naïve, lazy or out to deceive.

  • Perhaps they give advice in good faith but have insufficient knowledge or expertise to realise that the advice is wrong, incomplete or inappropriate;
  • Perhaps they hope the advice is ok even though they haven’t checked; or
  • Perhaps they are out to deceive in that they know they don’t know the answer but seek to convince the client that they do and that their waffle is good advice.

In all 3 scenarios the client may be unaware that the adviser should not be trusted.

The motivations are different in each case. Which is worst do you think and which is the most common?

Some years back I recall discussing two tax managers with a fellow partner in the accountancy firm where I worked. He was a general practitioner and evidently favoured one manager over the other. He told me why:

‘Rosie’ never seemed confident of the tax advice she gave him. She always wanted to double check it with someone else. He preferred ‘Cathy’ as she always provided him with definitive advice and never insisted on ‘wasting time’ getting confirmation.

I told him that I would prefer to rely on ‘Rosie’ any day. She knew what she didn’t know. She was neither naïve, lazy or out to deceive. ‘Cathy’ on the other hand evidently wanted to please the partner but I knew she did not have the experience or expertise to always have the right answers.

Some months later my partner thanked me for opening his eyes. He had been checking up on ‘Cathy’ and found that her advice was not always reliable. Several mistakes and problems had come to light. She had attempted to explain them away but on reflection he knew that they were a function of her over eager attempts to give advice and to appear to be more knowledgeable than was the case.

If this had only happened once or twice he might have thought her simply naïve. She had attempted to cover her tracks – in a further effort to deceive.

She left the firm shortly afterwards.

If your colleagues can’t trust you why should your clients?

* Names changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!)

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How can you stand out from the rest of the pack?

I have just watched an old video clip of the professional services firm guru, David Maister, in which he highlights the six most scarce resources in most professional service firms:

  • Energy
  • Excitement
  • Enthusiasm
  • Determination
  • Passion
  • Ambition

David also points out that his research has proved that the top achieving firms are those that energise, excite and enthuse their people to perform at a higher level than their competitors.

Those who’ve worked with me will know that the listed resources are all qualities that I possess in abundance. I have no doubt that they helped me reach the top of my career more so than any technical skills or knowledge that I developed over the years.

Would your colleagues and clients use all or indeed any of these words to describe you or your firm? If there’s a mismatch as between how others see you and how you want to be seen you will need to do something to close the perception gap. If you do nothing then nothing will change.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Do you suffer from premature evaluation?

I’ve mentioned my friend Richard White before. I’ve just read a piece on his blog that reinforces the advice I give in my talk on How to make more profits from your smaller clients. It also relates very closely to this previous posting of mine along similar lines last August. Below I’ve taken Richard’s analogy and adapted it slightly for ambitious professionals.

Imagine being in pain and going to your doctor for some help. Within moments of your arrival the doctor starts telling you, very enthusiastically, how similar your pain is to the previous patient, what is wrong with you and what medicine you need to take.

How would you feel if that happened? Would you trust the doctor? The doctor could be right but you will be more likely to trust their advice if they spent a little time finding out more about your specific pain rather than just making assumptions and talking, talking, talking!

The same is true for ambitious professionals. You need to give your prospects some credit for intelligence. You need to assume that they can tell if you are listening to them or are just interested in flogging them your services.

People do not like being sold to, but they do like to buy. Successful ambitious professionals look to build trust and a long-term relationship by working with human nature rather than against it.

If a prospect feels that you are more interested in selling your services than solving their problems then you are unlikely to gain their confidence or to encourage them to engage you to do more than the bare minimum (if that). Your relationship with the new client will always be vulnerable no matter how likeable you are.

When you meet with a prospective new client they need to feel that your focus is 100% on them and that you are going to give them the right advice for their issues. They like the fact that you have experience but they want you to apply that experience to their specific issues rather than just making assumptions.

In my posting last August I took this idea a stage further and recommended that ambitious professionals could get more favourable feedback from their clients by taking a two-step approach rather than getting straight to the answer right away. This is very similar in concept to the idea of avoiding instant diagnosis. We wouldn’t trust a doctor who operated like that so why should we expect clients to appreciate such an approach?

There is a term for the condition where professionals (or indeed anyone trying to sell their services or products) get very excited and enthusiastically sell all over the place without bothering to take an interest in their prospect’s problems – It’s called ‘Premature Evaluation’ and there is a lot of it about!!!

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